Jun. 11: I floated

You’ve heard of those isolation tanks, the ones in which people are put when they go all cuckoo, and once inside, go even cuckoo-er? Don’t they sound super-fun? I don’t think so either. But a couple weeks ago a friend posted on Facebook that she was about to do a float session at a spa, and I got curious because that didn’t sound like prison or a psych ward.

First, the setting: approximately 11 inches of body-temperature water in a giant lidded bathtub, containing over 800 pounds of Epsom salt. The salt makes you incredibly buoyant so you cannot HELP but float. The tank is large enough that you can’t touch the top, eliminating any similarities to a coffin. Some tanks have lights to help with claustrophobia, but because a light cancels out a big part of what it means to be deprived of one’s senses, floaters are encouraged not to use them.

The benefits of sensory deprivation floatation therapy (from The Book of Floating, by Michael Hutchinson) are what convinced me to give floating a try:

“Floating stimulates the brain to secrete endorphins: pain-killing, euphoria-creating substances known as the ‘body’s own opiates.’”

I like opiates. I like opiates A LOT.

“Lab studies show that floating can rapidly and significantly decrease stress and anxiety, by sharply lowering the levels of bio-chemicals directly related to stress, anxiety, tension, the ‘fight or flight response,’ heart disease and other stress-related illnesses.”

Do I sweat the small stuff? I sure do. I sweat the small stuff, the medium stuff, the big stuff, the nonexistent stuff, the impossible stuff, the boring stuff, the forgotten stuff, the unrelated stuff… all of it. Does this make my anxiety levels go sky-high when one teeny-tiny bad thing happens? Yes. So… pretty much anything that might help lower that = good.

“There are indications that floating can suspend the dominance of the detail-oriented left hemisphere of the brain, allowing the right hemisphere (which deals with large-scale and novel information) to operate freely, giving the floater access to unusual powers of creativity, imagination, visualization and problem solving.”

This kinda sounds like floating could possibly curb crazy OCD tendencies and make me more easy-going and nice. Everyone who works or lives with me will agree this could be a very good thing.

“Floatation tanks are being used in schools and universities as tools for ‘super-learning,’ increasing the mind’s powers of comprehension, retention, and original thinking.”

Thinking is good stuff. I like doing it.

“Indications show that two hours of floating are more restful and restorative than a full night of sound sleep. This makes floating, in the words of one prominent scientist, ‘a method of attaining the deepest rest that we have ever experienced.’”

The most awesome nap ever? Sign me up!

“Research has demonstrated floating reduces pain of multiple types, whether caused by an acute injury, physical exertion, or chronic condition—including tension-related muscle pain and fibromyalgia. Muscles feel especially positive benefits from floating, as the combination of support and Epsom salt work together to give them total relief. The body absorbs magnesium from the Epsom salt-infused water, which facilitates flushing of lactic acid from tired muscles.”

I have near constant joint pain—this treatment sounds delightful.

“Women reap the most beneficial rewards. Sessions in a tranquility tank unknot forehead tension and relax tightened strings of the face. When muscles behind the skin are in stress, they are reflected on the skin's surface. Eliminating stress and its effect on your body makes you feel and look more attractive and energetic. In addition, floating in Epsom salt makes your skin softer, smoother, and draws toxins such as lactic acid away from your body.”

Floating could make me pretty? Is there anything floating cannot do?

Wow. I’m in.

My mom was excited to try it too. I made float appointments for us at the same time at Float On, one of several Portland float centers. We were in two separate tanks, of course—there are some float tanks built for two, which is crazy, IMO. How can you enjoy the benefits of floating with someone else there? We were given a short orientation before we went off to float. One of the few cautions was not to touch or splash our faces once in the tank—apparently the salt water is incredibly painful if it gets in your eyes.

There was a shower in each tank room, which we were told to use before and after floating. Nothing was fancy, but everything was clean and freshly disinfected. There were shower shoes, a thick white robe, cozy towel, soap, earplugs, vaseline (for covering cuts, which hurt like a MOFO in salt water), ear drops to help get salt out, and Q-tips. The only things I brought were shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, and a headband. Mom brought a blow dryer.

Mom was in a “tall” tank—there’s a normal-height door, and you walk into the tank. Mine was a traditional tank, meaning I did more of a crawl to get in. Once inside, you turn around to close the door behind you and everything goes black and quiet. There is almost no odor in the air—nothing beach-y or chlorine-y. If you can lay down and avoid moving, you’ll create no waves. They tell you the temperature of the water is such that you won’t be able to tell where it ends and you begin—and that’s exactly what happens. It’s actually quite lovely.

I let my head/neck relax, and that made my ears go underwater. I did not love this; I could hear myself breathing and my heart beating and that was distracting. I don’t think the earplugs would have made that any better or different. Every time I moved, even a little bit, the waves would float me to one side, interrupting the, uh… deprivation of my senses. I was annoyed. Trying extra-hard not to move made it even harder to relax. Grrr.

Most people, we were told, enter a “theta” state while floating. What is the “theta” state?

In Theta, we are in a waking dream, vivid imagery flashes before the mind's eye and we are receptive to information beyond our normal conscious awareness. Theta has also been identified as the gateway to learning and memory. Theta meditation increases creativity, enhances learning, reduces stress and awakens intuition and other extrasensory perception skills.

I was looking forward to theta. Unfortunately, I never got there. Although I felt plenty relaxed during my 90-minute float, I didn’t have any weird visions or increased awareness. Instead, my mind never seemed to slow down and was, in fact, all over the place:

I wonder if Mom is in theta
I wonder if Mom used the earplugs
I wonder how long it’s been
if this were to end right now I don’t know if I’d feel like I really relaxed
I hope Mom doesn’t think this sucks
I hope I’ll be able to get all this salt out of my hair
I wonder if Mom is in theta
I forgot to answer that email I have to do that the second I get home
I need to send out the party invitations dang I keep forgetting
I wonder if Mom is enjoying this
stretching feels waaaay good in here
I can’t believe I’m still not in theta dammit
this hangnail hurts like a mofo
I should do this again
if I do this again maybe I can relax more
I wonder how much time is left
this better make a good blog post
if this were to end right now I don’t know if I’d feel like I really relaxed
why aren’t I in theta is Mom in theta
I wonder how long it’s been
the guy said we’re an inch taller in here because our spines decompress while floating
what about when I get out will I still be super-tall does that mean I can get all new shoes
brainoo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang
I promised Victor I’d sing that and I did
oh god I hope that doesn’t mean I’ve gone cuckoo
did I leave my phone on what if it rings would they hear it out in front how embarrassing
I’ll be pissed if I’m too relaxed to sleep tonight
why aren’t I seeing weird stuff like in that one episode of The Simpsons
am I doing something wrong
I forgot where I parked the car
is Mom in theta
do I have enough shampoo to get all this salt out of my hair
if this were to end right now I think I could say I relaxed

…and so on.

The music piped in underwater came in quietly, slowly, telling me my time was up. I got out and showered. The salt came out of my hair, no problem. It was weird not to be pruney (thanks to the salt). I felt very peaceful. I was bummed not to have gone into a theta state, but because it was my first time floating, I blame it on everything being so new; maybe it gets easier each time.

It turned out that Mom and I had very similar float experiences—she didn’t go into theta either, but she agreed that floating was very relaxing; we weren’t complaining, just disappointed not to go a little wacko while being deprived of our senses.

I went to Float On again yesterday. I relaxed much more, and if I went into theta, I wasn’t aware of it—can a person be aware of themselves being in theta? I need to research that. The thing I definitely need to change is how bothered I am by floating to the sides—I think the stress of staying in the absolute middle of the tank has kept me from relaxing more.

The verdict is this: I loved the experience, but I need a few more sessions before I’m completely sold on floatation therapy. If you get the chance to float, you definitely should—and report back to me.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Hey, please don’t leave an anonymous comment.
Select “Name/URL” below and you can use whatever name you want. No registration required.
Thanks! –Jen


Related Posts with Thumbnails